Simple-minded but sweet, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is an old-age tribute that doesn't press as hard on your gag reflex as The World's Fastest Indian. It's a romantic fantasy for seniors in which the grand prize isn't a world land-speed record or enough easily-obtained sex to push a pacemaker to its limits, but a final chance to enjoy a real and satisfying friendship.
That reward hopefully awaits aged widow Sarah Palfrey (Joan Plowright), the newest resident of a nutty but faintly depressing retirement hotel. A chance street encounter with an affably bohemian young writer named Ludovic Meyer (Rupert Friend of Pride & Prejudice and The Libertine) introduces a last, exciting jolt of possibility — and a mess of uncomfortable associations. They both laughingly acknowledge their similarity to Harold and Maude, then thankfully bypass the funny business to explore a platonic relationship that finds its currency in impromptu serenades and tales of the good old days.
Bathos is always close at hand, and so is burlesque: This is the sort of movie in which shots of folks eating are dubbed with exaggerated slurping sounds, lest we miss the comedic undercurrents. Otherwise, Mrs. Palfrey is enhanced by its narrow aims, including a realistic sense of its own limited environment. Notice that everyone at the hotel is instantly taken by the "handsome" Ludovic — who Mrs. Palfrey passes off as her grandson — when to our more sophisticated eyes, he bears a distinct resemblance to a long-haired Larry Storch. Every neighborhood needs its own dreamboat, one supposes, though not many burgs have better models of graceful aging than Plowright's Palfrey, who is proper yet never imperious, with twinkling eyes that suggest some carefully preserved fun to be had. If your own grandma is long gone, here's one you wouldn't mind renting for a couple of hours.